“Detectives,” Barba said, nodding his greeting as he joined Fin and Rollins on the elevator up to the precinct.
“Liv call you in?” Fin asked, and Barba shrugged his acknowledgement, his attention already dropping down to the many emails waiting for him on his phone.
But his email wasn’t enough to fully absorb him, as he perked up with interest when he heard Rollins ask, a little skeptically, “What, like a prank?”
He glanced up and tucked his phone into his pocket. “Who are you planning on pranking?” he asked mildly, and both Rollins and Fin shot him surprised looks.
“New guy,” Fin replied with a grin, and Barba couldn’t help but smile slightly at the thought.
It wasn’t that Carisi deserved to be pranked, necessarily. It was more that the man with his occasionally overbearing enthusiasm made himself a somewhat easy target for it.
“For April Fools' Day?” Barba asked, aware that the “holiday” so to speak, was coming up in a few short days.
Fin nodded and Rollins glanced between them and sighed. “If you can get Amaro on board, then I’m in,” she said, shaking her head as the elevator doors dinged open. “Lord knows how y’all talk me into this.”
“Because it took so much convincing,” Fin called after her before glancing back at Barba. “What about you, Counselor? I’m sure you think Carisi could do with some pranking.”
“Maybe,” Barba said noncommittally. “We’ll see what mood I’m in when the day arrives.”
For some reason, Fin’s smile looked like more of a smirk as he walked with Barba off the elevator. “Aren’t you always in the mood to yank Carisi’s chain?”
Barba just rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help but consider it as he made his way to Olivia’s office.
Maybe Fin had a point.
But Barba wasn’t willing to give too much thought to it then and there.
As it turned out, he wasn’t willing to give too much thought to it when the day arrived either, the first of April arriving with Barba in a foul mood, irritated by what little progress SVU had made on the case at hand, and his irritation only grew as he made his way into the precinct. “Please tell me you have something,” he said in lieu of a greeting.
Fin and Rollins exchanged glances and Carisi cleared his throat. “We don’t have anything new,” he hedged, and Barba’s expression darkened. “But we had an idea.”
“Nuh-uh, don’t throw us all under the bus,” Fin muttered and Carisi shot him a dirty look.
“Fine, I had an idea,” he said reluctantly. “I know we can’t make the wife testify against the husband, but I thought we could bring her in on obstruction charges and see if she rolled over and gave us something that we can work with.”
Barba blinked and resisted the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Do you think she’d implicate her husband in order to take a deal?”
Carisi shrugged, though he looked a little relieved that Barba hadn’t nixed the idea immediately. “I think it’s at least worth trying.”
Nodding slowly, Barba said, “Carisi, I think that’s an excellent idea.”
Carisi stared at him for a moment. “You do?” he asked, sounding surprised.
Barba rolled his eyes so hard it exacerbated his growing headache. “It’s April Fools' Day, Detective,” he snapped. “Of course I don’t think it’s a good idea.” He levelled a glare at all of them. “Find me something I can actually work with, and leave the legal thought to the experts.”
With that, he turned and headed toward the elevators, scowl fixed on his face. He hated cases like these, and hated even more being called to the precinct when he still had nothing to work with to even so much as convene a grand jury.
It wasn’t until the elevator doors slid closed that Barba realized how much Carisi had lit up when he had said it was an excellent idea, only to wilt as soon as Barba said April Fools'.
Barba felt a pang of something like guilt, though he quickly squashed it. He wasn’t responsible for handholding the detective through the most basic legal issues. Even if he had been a little harsh.
He made a mental note to apologize when he was in a better mood, and had already put it out of mind by the time the elevator reached the ground floor.
Barba never quite got around to apologizing, at least not in so many words. Not that it mattered, since Carisi seemed to forgive him, if there was anything to forgive.
And over the course of the following year, they grew closer together, so much so that Barba had even said, more than once, completely unjokingly, “That’s a good idea, Detective.”
He had even meant it.
Far more than just merited compliments, however, the following year brought something approximating friendship between Barba and Carisi. Between late nights spent together working on trial prep and Carisi shadowing him, Barba found himself grudgingly admitting that the detective was not nearly as bad as he had perhaps been first inclined to believe.
And then friendship turned into something...more.
Barba couldn’t quite pinpoint the moment when he started thinking of Carisi as someone worth pursuing, though if he had to hedge his bets, it’d be right around the time he uttered a sincere compliment in Carisi’s direction. There was something effortlessly charming about the detective, or perhaps he just effortlessly charmed Barba.
No matter the moment the switch occurred, Barba couldn’t deny that he found himself looking forward to their evenings together, to the time he got to spend with Carisi. He couldn’t quite get a feel for if his burgeoning feelings were returned — he had his suspicions, certainly, or else he was completely deluded to think that Carisi never quite smiled at anyone the way he did at him — but he figured his usual bluntness was his best option.
So one night, when they had worked their way through a casefile and actually finished at a reasonable hour, Barba stretched and glanced at the clock. “Well, I think we’re done here, Detective,” he said casually. “Thank you for your help.”
Carisi glanced at him, something shifting in his expression. “Uh, you’re welcome,” he said, almost cautiously, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Barba frowned. He’d try to be more open with his compliments recently, as close to dropping hints as Rafael Barba ever got, and normally Carisi lapped up the attention. Something was off that evening, but Barba decided to push forward with his plan regardless. “Since we’re finished, would you like to join me for a drink?”
The question was simple, direct, and required a yes or no response.
But Carisi looked briefly perplexed by the question, staring at Barba as if trying to decipher some hidden clue. Then, after a long moment, he forced a smile and the fakest laugh Barba had ever heard from him. “Yeah, yeah, I get it Counselor,” he said, his usually easy grin tight, and Barba stared at him, baffled. “Very funny. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He left without another word, and Barba stared blankly after him, trying to put together what in the hell had just happened.
Had he — had he completely misread anything?
He had just reached for his phone, tempted to text Olivia to see if there was a reason for Carisi’s behavior, when he caught sight of the date on his Blackberry.
April Fools' Day.
Barba groaned and leaned back in his chair. No wonder Carisi had that reaction — he thought Barba was playing an April Fools' Day prank on him.
Which was the literal opposite of his intention.
Sighing heavily, Barba sat back up and scrubbed a hand across his face, tapping his finger thoughtfully on his phone, tempted to text Carisi and explain. But he had a feeling his explanation would feel hollow on tonight of all nights.
Barba was rarely willing to admit fault, but in this case, even he had to be honest — he clearly needed to work on his timing.
And clearly, he’d have to try again.
But the opportunity to do so never quite arose, for a variety of reasons, mostly related to their schedules, to the untimely death of Sgt. Dodds, and to that little thing that Barba was pretending had never happened, the death threats.
And perhaps he only had himself to blame, but by the time things calmed down, whatever had been growing between himself and Carisi had — not passed, per se, but certainly stagnated. And then disintegrated entirely, for reasons Barba couldn’t quite understand.
The year passed almost exactly opposite of the previous, with Barba and Carisi growing apart rather than together. Barba threw himself into his work, and into attempting to put all thoughts of the detective from his mind.
Some days were easier than others.
On other days, when he had to work closely with him, Barba was reminded of everything that could have been between them.
The entire thing felt like the world’s worst and longest-running April Fools' Day gag.
Which was why he was particularly surprised when late one evening, Carisi knocked on Barba’s door, poking his head in. “I got your text,” he said brusquely, in lieu of a greeting, and Barba blinked up at him. “You have a file for me?”
“I...don’t, actually,” Barba said slowly. “And I didn’t text you.”
Carisi scowled and stepped fully into the office, fishing his cellphone from his pants pocket. “I got a text from you an hour ago,” he said, sliding the phone across Barba’s desk to him.
Barba glanced down at the phone and back up at him with a raised eyebrow. “Clearly you received a text, and while it says ‘ADA Barba’—” He tamped down any ridiculous feelings at not meriting a first name in Carisi’s phone. “—that’s not my number.”
Carisi snatched his phone back, his scowl deepening before he let out a groan. “You’re right,” he said grudgingly. “It’s not your number.”
Barba chose not to comment on the fact that Carisi apparently had his number memorized. “I’ll take it one of your colleagues is playing an April Fools' Day joke on you?” he asked delicately.
Carisi sighed and sank down into the seat across from Barba. “Yeah,” he said, huffing a dry and completely humorous laugh. “Yeah, Fin and Amanda clearly get a kick out of it every year.” He shook his head and couldn’t quite meet Barba’s eyes. “I hate April Fools' Day,” he admitted. “I hate that I always fall for it.”
“It’s because you trust people,” Barba told him, surprising even himself with his sincerity. “And despite how you might feel about it right now, that’s not a bad thing.”
Carisi blinked at him, clearly surprised. “I— thanks, Counselor,” he said. “You almost sound like you mean it.”
“Well, what I can say, it’s not your fault that you’re a dumb blond,” Barba said, feeling the need to try to lighten the moment, lest Carisi read too far into it.
“I’m not even blond!” Carisi protested, but he managed a genuine laugh, even as he shook his head again, his expression turning contemplative. “Besides, I don’t know if it’s a matter of trust. I think — I guess I just expect more from my friends.”
“Really?” Barba asked doubtfully. Fin and Amanda struck him as exactly the kind of people who would enjoy pranking their slightly gullible colleague, and surely three years running should’ve lowered Carisi’s expectations by now.
Carisi’s eyes met his. “Well, I expected more from you, anyway.”
Barba blinked, and opened his mouth to say something, to apologize, and instead— “Last year wasn’t a prank.”
A frown puckered Carisi’s brow. “Huh?” he said blankly.
Barba could feel color rise in his cheeks, but he had gone too far to turn back now. “When I asked you to join me for a drink last year,” he clarified, “I meant it. I honestly didn’t even realize it was April 1st until you...left.”
Carisi stared at him. “Oh,” he managed, after a long moment. “Um…”
He trailed off, and Barba could feel his flush darken. “Anyway,” he said, forcing himself to look away, “I just...I thought you should know.”
“I shoulda said yes,” Carisi said, and Barba looked back up at him, not daring to hope. “Last year. Even though I thought it was a joke. I shoulda…” He trailed off, a rueful smile lifting the corners of his mouth. “Even as a joke, you asking me out was the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I should’ve taken advantage, just in case it never happened again.”
“And now?” Barba hazarded, looking up at Carisi. “Joke or not, if I asked you to get a drink with me this evening?”
“I’d say yes.”
Carisi said the words simply, easily, as if he didn’t have to think about them at all, and for what felt like the first time in a very long time, Barba smiled at him. “In that case, Detective, would you like to join me for a drink?”
“Actually I have some more work I need to do—” Carisi broke off, unable to stop his laugh at the look on Barba’s face. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.”
“That’s not funny, you know,” Barba said warningly.
Carisi grinned. “I dunno, it was pretty funny from where I’m sitting.” He stood and looked at Barba expectantly. ‘So. Drink?”
“You said the magic word,” Barba said, grabbing his suit jacket as he stood. “Forlini’s?”
“Nah, I can’t stand that place,” Carisi said dismissively.
Barba scowled. “That better be another April Fools' joke,” he said warningly, following Carisi out of his office. “You know Forlini’s is more or less my home away from home.”
Carisi laughed. “You only like it because they have your drink ready for you whenever you walk in.”
“Yes,” Barba said, as if it was obvious. “What more could you possibly want from a bar?”
“Fair enough,” Carisi said easily, his arm just brushing against Barba’s as they made their way to the elevator, their conversation continuing as effortlessly as if the past year had never happened, as if Carisi had taken Barba up on his original offer.
Maybe there was something to be said for timing after all.
“I still can’t believe you,” Carisi said, grinning as they walked hand in hand down the sidewalk together.
Barba rolled his eyes. “If I had a dollar for everytime you said that today,” he started threateningly, and Carisi laughed and turned to kiss him lightly.
“What can I say,” he mused, letting go of Barba’s hand only to wrap his arm around Barba’s shoulders and tug him close. “When your boyfriend goes out of his way to make sure you both have the same dreaded non-holiday off, it’s something worth remarking on multiple times.”
Even though Barba rolled his eyes again, he also turned his head and captured Carisi’s lips with his own. “Multiple times is one thing,” he groused. “You’ve said it about once every five minutes.”
Carisi grinned good-naturedly. “Still. It’s been great being able to relax on April Fools' Day, to not worry that someone’s going to prank me.”
“Mmm,” Barba hummed in agreement, unable to stop his smirk, and Carisi glanced down at him.
“What is that look about?” he asked warily.
“Oh, nothing,” Barba said offhandedly, his smirk widening. “Just that while you’ve been safe from pranks all day, your colleagues haven’t been so lucky.”
Carisi stopped in his tracks. “What did you do?” he asked, sounding equal parts excited and scandalized.
Barba shrugged nonchalantly. “I may or may not have told them that the courier misplaced multiple case notes on their way to my office, and that they’d have to spend the day rewriting them.”
“You didn’t,” Carisi said, but he sounded downright gleeful. “So they spent their entire day doing paperwork that they’ve already done?”
“Not only paperwork that they’ve already done, but paperwork I’ve already filed,” Barba said smugly. Carisi laughed and Barba grinned. “Happy April Fools' Day.”
Carisi shook his head and kissed Barba once more. “You’re an evil genius and I love you,” he said. “Best April Fools' Day I can remember.”
“Oh, speaking of April Fools',” Barba said, pausing in his step, and when Carisi turned to frown at him, Barba carefully got down on one knee.
“Don’t you dare,” Carisi said, all color drained from his face as he stared at Barba. “Don’t — Don’t you dare do this to me, Rafael. This is not even remotely funny, I swear to God—”
“Look at your watch, Sonny,” Barba said, his own smile soft, and genuine, and full of nothing but love for the ridiculous, gullible, trusting man in front of him. Carisi was still glaring at him and Barba repeated, “Look at your watch.”
As Carisi reluctantly tore his gaze away to look down at his watch, Barba pulled the ring box he’d been carrying all day from his pocket. “It’s midnight on April 2nd,” he said, a little breathlessly, and Carisi looked back at him, eyes wide. “And this is not an April Fools' joke.”
Carisi blinked, tears clear in his eyes. “Rafael—” he managed, but Barba shook his head.
“Let me just say this. April Fools' has had its ups and downs for us, but last year we turned the page on it, and this year, I want to give us the best thing possible to change this holiday forever and make this the starting point of our life together. So Sonny Carisi, will you marry me?”
“Yes, God yes,” Carisi said, yanking Barba to his feet and crashing his lips against Barba’s.
Barba laughed lightly and pushed back from Carisi’s embrace. “Let me put the damn ring on your finger,” he scolded, sliding the platinum band into place before grinning up at him. “There.”
“Rafi—” Carisi started, but he couldn’t seem to find the words, just pulling Barba to him and wrapping him in a hug. The move felt more intimate than most kisses, Barba pressed firmly against Carisi’s chest, feeling his fiancé’s heartbeat next to his own. “I love you. So much.”
“I love you, too,” Barba told him, his voice muffled slightly against Carisi’s shirt.
When they broke apart a moment later, Carisi kissed him once more, cradling Barba’s face in both his hands, the cool of the ring a welcome feeling on Barba’s cheek. “God, I can’t believe you,” he managed, reaching up to wipe the tears from his cheeks.
Barba laughed lightly. “Again, if I had a dollar…”
“Shut up,” Carisi told him, but he was beaming, and he laced his left hand with Barba’s right, both men looking down to admire the ring on Carisi’s finger.
“Come on,” Barba said, squeezing Carisi’s hand. “Let’s go home.”
They made it a few moment before Carisi said, almost offhandedly, “You do realize no one’s going to believe us when we tell them we’re engaged, right?”
Barba glanced up at Carisi, taking in the grin neither man seemed able to contain, and the happiness that seemed to radiate from his every surface, and shook his head. “No,” he said simply. “No, I think they’ll believe it without a doubt in the world.”